I still get excited when Nine Inch Nails releases something new. I don’t know if he knows he’s doing it, but Trent Reznor has a knack for creating anticipation. Just look at what he did with the release of Year Zero and the alternate reality he created to tell a much larger story than the album alone did.
But it’s probably just me. I geek out about music. And I geek out about Nine Inch Nails. But I still think I can be unbiased when it comes to a critique of his work. I don’t absolutely love everything he’s done, but I feel like after all this time Trent Reznor has brought his fans along with him on a sort of odyssey as he’s experimented with different sounds and projects.
‘Hesitation Marks’ wasn’t my favorite Nine Inch Nails album. In fact, it may be at the bottom of the list. But I think that after How to Destroy Angels and multiple soundtracks, Trent Reznor probably wondered how he was to differentiate Nine Inch Nails from those other projects. After HTDA, I had secretly hoped Trent would destroy Nine Inch Nails and never come back to it again. HTDA was pure and experimental. It was inaccessible and a challenging listen. In fact, it really reminded me of what attracted me to NIN in the first place. And when I heard Trent was releasing ‘Hesitation Marks’, I wondered to myself what he may have wondered ot himself before he recorded it. What is Nine Inch Nails anymore?
As a musician with multiple projects, I often times find myself in this confusing place when I’m moving from one back to the other. I not only have to figure out what I want the next album to sound like, but I also have to ask myself how I keep a safe distance from the other project so they don’t overlap. Then I wonder if I even need two projects anymore. Or should I kill one completely and start something drastically different? And if I do that, how do I make sure it’s different enough to justify a new project? Could it have just been an experiment in a new sound with an old project?
Anyways, if I get this twisted up in my thoughts about my music, I can only imagine how twisted up a person who does it for a living can get. I think ‘Hesitation Marks’ was the result of these same kind of voices in Trent’s mind. And I think his decision was that Nine Inch Nails was the embodiment of his more accessible musical creations. So he created songs like ‘Everything’ and ‘Satellite’ that aren’t horrible but aren’t fantastic either. And it was apparent to me that the lyrics were just kind of thrown together quickly for the song structure rather than writing from an emotion.
But I don’t think NIN was ever Trent’s accessible project, as proven by the release of ‘Ghosts’. It was just him. Then he chopped himself up after ‘The Slip’ and created a lot of spectacular music that was very different. You could tell that he was really challenging himself as a song writer. ‘Hesitation Marks’ was just an easy, safe record and it comes through clearly. And after seeing NIN on tour that year and seeing the enlistment of back-up singers, I felt like the ride was over. I decided to keep my ear to the ground for new HTDA material.
So when ‘Not the Actual Events’ was released, I wasn’t as excited as I would’ve been 4 years ago. I was a smidge excited, however. ‘Intrigued’ may be a better word. Especially when it was described as ‘unfriendly’.
‘Branches/Bones’ immediately sets my doubt at ease. Aaaaaaah. A loud Nine Inch Nails song. This is what ‘Hesitation Marks’ was missing – raw, aggressive mosh pit material. And eventually ‘She’s Gone Away’ sinks in and I remember the creepiness of some of the Year Zero tracks. It almost sounded like it could’ve been an HTDA song. And by the time ‘Burning Bright’ got to the second chorus I was singing ‘I am forgiven, I am free, I am a field – on – fiiiiiyuuuuuurrrrhhh!’ And as this EP ended, I had found all of the things that had been missing from ‘Hesitation Marks’. Pure emotion.
So I checked the reviews online by other people who had bought the album, because for some reason I sometimes feel like I need to validate my feelings and compare them to other people. And most of the time we’re all in about the same place. And then every once in awhile, like with this EP, I find myself asking, ‘Were we listening to the same music?’
But then I see a lot of comparisons to his old work and I get it. There will always be those people that want another ‘Downward Spiral’. But this long after that album, you have to know by now that Trent Reznor will never release anything like that again. No two of his records sound the same. And that’s the odyssey. He left that album behind a long time ago, and it’s been clear since ‘The Perfect Drug’ that he had no intention of ever going back to it.
I don’t think any true NIN fan at this point expects another ‘Closer’ or ‘Head Like a Hole’. I don’t know about other NIN fans, but I don’t follow NIN for the chance that he’ll release ‘March of the Pigs 2’. That’s the kind of thing you follow Metallica for. I follow NIN because I love expecting the unexpected. I love hearing true industrial music, created with machines I can’t pronounce (seriously, watch some studio footage – Trent Reznor is the Batman of musicians). I love being challenged as a listener. And sure, occasionally from even the best bands we get a release like ‘Hesitation Marks’. But not from every band do you get a proper apology like ‘Not the Actual Events’.
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